Last year's Automata exhibition of robotic sculpture at the Old Iron Works on Piety Street was so spectacular one had to wonder what would come next. In fact, the moon, the stars and curator Myrtle von Damitz's extended family obligations meant that this year's expo of Automata artists would morph into the more subtle Volatilia exhibit at Barrister's Gallery. Intended as "a pseudo-mystical exposition," it takes its name from a term poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge used to mean "winged words" of the sort logged in his Volatilia daybook for "impounding stray thoughts." At Barrister's, they appear as unlikely devices that suggest flight or escape, mechanical concoctions imbued with, if not consciousness, then at least attitude. There is a modestly Mad Max aura about much of this, as if the industrial revolution had been suddenly slammed into reverse and made far more personal and whimsical.
Travis Linde's Loki's Carriage combines archaic Visigoth technology with a sense of drama in the form of something like a three-wheel stroller comprised of iron and animal parts for baby barbarians. Rachel David and Noel Bennetto's Bird Brain Brand (pictured) is a hand-forged, hand-cranked multiple-wing device — perhaps a prototype for industrial flying machines conceived by a species of crows with corporate ambitions. But if the avian species went corporate, what will happen to bird songs? Fear not, Taylor Lee Shepherd and Delaney Martin produced WNEB 87.9, a fully functional radio station, to broadcast their chirping for perpetuity. Other bird-inspired concoctions include Ersy's mini-sculpture Seeker, a kind of bicycle with feather wings, a propeller and training wheels for a fledgling mini-Icarus. Elizabeth Shannon and Jacqueline Mang take us back to the future with relics of flying creatures we never knew existed, but Megan Lee-Hoelzle's preserved fairies in 4-inch-tall glass jars offer proof, of sorts, of a humanoid species capable of flight long before the Wright brothers. Here evolution appears to have taken a more intimate alternate route. — D. Eric Bookhardt